Beyond Sound Bites

May 13th, 2010

In his essay "Sound Bites" (January/February), David Shenk '88 highlights the difficulties academics face when trying to convey their ideas in a media terrain dominated by sound bites. Shenk might be encouraged to know that some media producers are actively working to bridge the divide between academia and the broader public.

On the Berkeley-based radio program that I host, we regularly give scholars the opportunity to disseminate their ideas, not in message-distorting sound bites but via extended, in-depth interviews. For example, Brown professor Catherine Lutz recently joined me to discuss, at some length, the social and environmental consequences of building and maintaining U.S. military bases. Often I'll converse for an hour with one thinker about a single journal article or book chapter.

Our program's format is, of course, very different from that typically offered up by the mainstream media. But the enthusiasm it has generated suggests that many consumers of media crave extended discussions of scholarly work that relates in some way to contemporary experience. Academics who wish to "go public" should actively seek out media workers who are respectful of nuance and complexity and eager to engage on a deeper, substantive level. Such workers aren't necessarily easy to find, but we do exist.

C.S. Soong '83
Berkeley, Calif.

The author is cohost of Against the Grain on KPFA (Pacifica) Radio in Berkeley, California.

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
May/June 2010